Dear Professor Mom,
Bedtime at our house always seems to be a battle. Both of my children get upset when it is time to go to bed. They will do anything to avoid going to sleep. I am so exhausted after putting them to bed that I often need to go to bed too. What can I do to make bedtime easier on myself and my children?
Sincerely, Sleepless in Ottawa
Many children resist going to bed. They will run away when getting pyjamas on, refuse to brush their teeth, and ask for just one more story. If you are experiencing bedtime battles, here are some helpful tips to make bedtime an easier transition for you and your children.
Connection: Many children spend their days away from their parents, whether they are at daycare, school, or at camp. Children often fight bedtime because they simply want more time to connect.
The more you connect with your children before bedtime, the less they will fight for it when it is time to go to sleep.
Same time: Many sleep experts suggest children should be in bed by 7 p.m. On average, young children (2-5 years old) need between 10-12 hours of sleep a day. This includes their nap time.
As long as your child goes to bed at the same time every night and they are getting enough sleep, try not to worry if your child is not ready for bed by 7 p.m.
Transition: Make sure you give them plenty of time for the transition. Make activities before bed less stimulating. You can read, play quiet games, and do puzzles.
It is also a good idea to give them at least a 30-minute warning before it is time for them to get ready for bed, then a 10-minute warning and finally a five-minute warning.
Routine: After you have given your children enough time to transition, giving them a bath is a great way to spend quality time together and get your children relaxed and ready for bed.
Knowing your child, think about all the other things that they will need in order to be ready for bed. Some children will want stories, a special toy, a snack, and water to drink.
Keep the routine the same every night. Being consistent will help your children know what is expected of them and what comes next in the routine.
Undivided attention: Bedtime can often be a hectic time when parents are running around, trying to get many things done. Don’t try and multi-task during bedtime. Make bedtime only about your children and not about other household tasks.
Same place: Parents often stress about where their children sleep. Some will be adamant that children should sleep in their own rooms, in their own beds, while others believe that bed sharing or co-sleeping is better for their children. As long as you are being consistent about where your child sleeps and it is a safe sleeping arrangement, do what works for you and your family.
Avoid battles: You have completed the bedtime routine, put them in bed and given them plenty of undivided attention. If your children are tired, it shouldn’t take them more than half an hour to fall asleep. If they get out of bed, gently place them back.
If this continues, don’t keep putting them back in their beds and walking away. This can quickly turn into a battle and a lesson in frustration for you. Just sit with them quietly.
Tell them that you are there to help them go to sleep, that you can rub their back or hold their hand – but it is quiet time so there will be no talking.
If they are still trying to get out of bed, being silly and not listening, they may not be tired. You may need to adjust their bedtime to be half an hour later or shorten their nap if they still have one.
At some point, most parents have battled with their children around bedtime. If you make time for connection, are consistent with your routine and give them your undivided attention, you will find that those battles become easier to manage.
Meghan Wright is a Certified Life Coach and Professor of Early Childhood Education. She has worked with children and families for over 15 years in a variety of child care settings. Reach Meghan at www.theprofessormom.com, her blog www.theprofessormom.blogspot.ca or on Facebook: www.facebook.com/ProfessorMom.